Day two got off to a lazy start with one of those free tours available in many capital cities. This was a 365 tour and our guide was Daniel, a likeable historian. It was a nice change from the previous guide we’ve had who were not certified experts in history, art or anything of the sort (not that they weren’t good).
That’s the coat of arms of Sofia, flanked by the lions of Bulgaria. From the top left, clockwise, we have the image of the church of St Sophia, the ancient town of Serdica taken from an antique coin, Mount Vitosha at the foot of which is the capital, and the city’s mineral springs. Snazzy, huh?
The Party House, where the Communist Central Committee once held raves and foam parties. Now the building belongs to the Parliament and houses the MPs’ offices. Seriously though, this is a good example of architecture from the Stalin era in the city.
Across the road is the Church of Sveta Petka Samardzhiiska (Saddlemakers), dedicated to the saint of the same name, a Christian girl from the third century in Asia Minor, who was martyred during Diocletian’s reign. Upkeep of the church was financed by the Guild of Saddlers, hence, the name. Daniel said the hodgepodge of materials is a result of the people running out of money to get this built after spending their budget on paying off bloody officials to approve the plan.
More ancient Roman ruins can be seen around and inside the metro station. According to Daniel, the stop had to be moved four times because they kept unearthing more ruins.
At the far end is one of the entrances to the station, and just beyond that is the Banya Bashi Mosque, the only Muslim place of worship in Sofia that still serves its original function. It was built in 1576 and is currently undergoing some renovation work — you can’t see it in this photo, but there were construction workers on the rooftop seemingly with no safety equipment. Weeeee! And to the left, ruining the whole scene, is a McDonald’s.
This is the building of the Mineral Baths of Sofia and standing in front is Daniel the guide. The Romans and the Ottomans built public baths to take advantage of Sofia’s mineral springs. The building you see was built in 1913 in an Art Nouveau style. Sadly the baths closed in 1986 due to the sorry state of the roof, and at the time of writing, it was still closed. To the side are public taps that provide drinkable spa water. Tasted eggy.
We then visited the Presidency, where the office of the Bulgarian president is located. Oddly, the building is shared with the Sheraton Hotel. The main entrance is guarded all day and night by soldiers dressed in 19th-century uniforms, and the changing of the guard takes places every hour.
The lion of Bulgaria again, this time looking suspiciously like an overgrown cat with a moustache.
Behind the Presidency and the Sheraton Hotel is a courtyard, where you’ll find this! The rotunda of St George is thought to stand on the site of a pre-Christian temple, and the building has been used as a church since the 6th century, except when it was converted into a mosque in the 16th century and when it briefly served as the mausoleum for Bulgaria’s first prince after it gained independence. The ruins you see around the church is the archaeological ‘park’ with remains of 2nd-century Roman Serdica.
I think this is the Bulgarian National Bank. See the balcony? Apparently, if the bank ever fails, the president is expected to throw himself off it. It’s only on the second floor, so I’m not sure what good that will do, unless the point is to bring him prolonged suffering and not immediate death.
The tour took us east of the city centre past the Russian Church, which you can see here. Silly me, I thought I’d photographed it the night before, but nope, this is the only decent shot I have of it.
We were lucky to have lovely weather, although it was ever so slightly misty, filtering the sunlight into a soft glow.
My second shot at capturing the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral – see the first from day one.
Can someone please tell me who this is?
After the tour, we had lunch at Lavanda, one of the trendier restaurants serving contemporary cuisine using fresh local ingredients. It was nice but there must be dozens of these in PJ and KL back in Malaysia.
One of the nicer looking streets we passed on the way to our next stop.
Around the side of the National Theatre.
Cutting through the park. Check out part two of this post to see snapshots of my visit to the Archaeological Museum.